Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread - made March 16, 2011 from The Best Quick Breads by Beth Hensperger (book #60)

In honor of St Patrick's Day tomorrow, I was poking around to see what I could make to mark the occasion.  Frankly, I have a hard time making anything for St Patrick's Day - a traditional (US version) dessert seems to always be artificially colored green or (worse to me) naturally green which means it probably involves vegetables.  To a carnivore like me, that's almost a no-starter.  Zucchini bread?  Nah. Or it could be something that includes mint but I don't like mint unless it's in my toothpaste.  I definitely don't like mint combined with anything.  Mint and chocolate?  That's like eating really good chocolate after you've brushed your teeth.  No thanks.  Using drops of green food coloring to turn frosting green so you could top it on a cupcake and call it St Patty's cupcakes?  That's literally just faking it. (Although you'll notice I have no problem using red food coloring for red velvet cake and cookies - yeah, I'm inconsistent.)

Other traditional St Patrick's Day baking also involves using Irish whiskey, beer or stout.  Also a no-starter since I don't drink and generally steer clear of alcohol in baking (notable exception: Kahlua and other flavored liqueurs).  So I had to expand out to the usual icon of St Patrick's Day being green and just think "Irish".  Which makes Irish Soda Bread a perfect contender.  I've always wanted to try soda bread.  All the recipes I have for it look much easier than the more traditional kneading, rising, kneading, rising, rolling of dough.  And it's bread.  I love bread.

I didn't realize I had two recipe books by Beth Hensperger until I started looking for Irish soda bread recipes.  Really, it's kind of embarrassing not to know what I already own.  Which means I have too much?  Probably.  Self-awareness is so overrated.

This recipe makes 2 loaves but I didn't need 2 loaves so I only made half the recipe.  The trickiest part is using half an egg but just beat the egg and eyeball a half portion of it to add to the dough.  Keep the other half to brush over the top of the bread as egg wash.  It browns better that way.  I omitted the currants and the candied orange peel since I just wanted pure bread.  The egg wash worked beautifully except the "X" cut into the top of the bread meant the loaf really split open and the non-egg wash parts didn't really brown as much.  But that's okay because this bread was awesome.  It has a slightly different texture than yeasted breads, a bit more crumbly and was more dense and hearty than a cake.  Surprisingly, it was a little sweet and I say surprisingly because there's not that much sugar in it.  Eat this warm from the oven slathered with some fresh butter and you have a winner.  Once it's cool, it's not quite as yummy but warm it up a bit and go to town.  I can't believe how easy and simple this was too make and how good it was.  Next time I host a brunch, Irish soda bread is on the menu. 

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup raw or granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups dried currants, rinsed in hot water and patted dry
3 tablespoons minced candied orange peel or dried pineapple
1 ½ cups cold buttermilk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large egg

1.    Preheat the oven to 400⁰F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, currants and candied peel.
2.    In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, melted butter and egg with a whisk.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir with a wooden spoon just to moisten.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until the sticky dough just comes together, about 5 times, dusting with flour, if needed.  Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and shape each into an 8-inch round.  Sprinkle all over with flour.
3.    Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheet. With a sharp knife, slash the tops with an X about ½-inch deep.  Bake the loaves in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375⁰F and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, or until the loaves are brown and crusty.  Cool the loaves on the baking sheet.  Serve them warm or at room temperature on the day they are baked.

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